The other day, my friend Anna-Karin Skillen and I were talking about chanterelles. They’re in season in her native Sweden right now, as well as in the U.S. on the northwest coast, in New England and other spots. I’ve been drooling lately watching a Facebook friend from Seattle document her family’s foraging trips, the kitchen table blanketed with fresh (and free!) chanterelles, soon be thrown in a scorching skillet or tossed in buttery pasta or noodle soup. Just this week, the Boston-based radio program, Here and Now, featured a segment on fall mushrooms, complete with easy recipes by resident chef Kathy Gunst, who had picked up several different wild mushroom varieties from Boston-area farmers markets.
One of the easiest ways to use fresh summer produce is in a luscious seasonal soup. I know, it’s hot outside, but your AC is probably on full blast, and soup is an inside dish. Corn soup (…and its many versions) is a longtime favorite around South Louisiana, but adding squash to the mix creates depth and wholesome goodness. Thanks to the Red Stick Farmers Market for planting the seed with their annual Corn & Squash-tastic event last Saturday celebrating the summer bounty. The idea of combining the two got stuck in my head and led to this simple recipe, which gives me a chance to do something different with yellow squash. I admit to getting stuck sometimes on expanding my use for it.
This soup tastes rich, but it’s really pretty healthy. A portion of the corn is pureed with a little broth to create a creamy consistency without actually using cream.
OK, it may sound so nineties, but pesto remains one of summer’s tastiest and most versatile condiments. Made fast with homegrown basil, mint, spinach or other seasonal green stuff, it’s useful spread on sandwiches, drizzled in soup, tossed in pasta or draped between thick slices of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. By now – mid-June – the basil many of us planted this spring is high, lush and screaming to be harvested. And f you live in a hot climate like I do, the leaves you pick today will quickly replenish throughout the summer, because basil is an herb that likes to be used.
Every cool, crunchy and refreshing bite of a homemade Asian-inspired chicken salad is the perfect antidote for the premature South Louisiana heat, which, no surprise to any of us here in Baton Rouge, seems here to stay. The assembly of this fresh salad is fast and easy – doable even during the nasty end-of-school rush I find myself in. It’s substantial enough to serve as a main course, and if you accessorize it with some store bought (or homemade) spring rolls, then, well, look at that. You’re done.
The sinister underside to Louisiana’s otherwise perfect spring is pollen — and that stuff is about to kill me! Recently sprouted leaves on our neighborhood’s famed oak trees are now layered with fuzzy clumps of oak pollen that give the trees a yellowish sheen. Stand near one long enough and you see pollen dust falling like evil snow. It’s all over our cars and streets. There. Is. No. Escape.
Most years, this isn’t a big deal to me, but I must be getting old and intolerant because being outside makes my head feel like an oversized melon.
Only one thing to do – make a spring soup.
Bay is a big part of Louisiana cuisine. You could make an argument it’s even more significant than cayenne pepper in terms of creating round, full flavor in so many of our emblematic dishes. Bay is what gives gumbo, jambalaya, red beans, countless soups and so many other one-pot dishes an herbaceous, sweet note. It plays well with everything from meats to vegetables to seafood. Fail to put it in certain dishes and something seems really amiss.
I have a very mature bay plant in my herb garden – it’s now more like a tree – and I frequently lop off the top growth. With our subtropical weather in South Louisiana, it grows fast enough for me to have to trim it twice a year. Here it is now – in December – with its little buddy lemon grass to the right.
After I trimmed it in September, I hung the fresh branches, laden with large, green leaves, in my outdoor washroom where it didn’t take long for them to dry. It’s pretty cool and dry out there. Commercial bay is dried flat, but I let mine dry the way it wants to. Sometimes that means curly and unruly.
Within a few days, I bring one branch into the kitchen, slide it into a tall vase and place the vase in the kitchen window. Several times a week, I reach up and snap off a few dried leaves and toss them in everything from butter beans to pot roast to spaghetti sauce. This week, it was homemade vegetable soup, heavy on the veggies, as you can see. Look how big those leaves get!
And jars of dried bay make great gifts!